Carbon neutrality: what is it and how to reach it

Elizabeth Smith

The goals of the Paris Agreement call for carbon neutrality. But what does it mean and what needs to be done for climate neutrality?

To save the planet and combat climate change, we must achieve carbon neutrality by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Let’s take a look at what carbon neutral means, what goals we need to achieve and how to reduce our carbon footprint to zero.

Carbon neutrality, what exactly is it?

Greenhouse gas emissions released over the last 150 years have overheated the planet, causing climate change and endangering the environment in which we live. In fact, the increase in the earth’s temperature is responsible for a series of climate alterations, causing negative consequences in terms of:

  • rising sea levels;
  • reduction in biodiversity;
  • worsening air quality;
  • acidification of the oceans;
  • increased droughts and heavy rainfall;
  • increase in violent weather phenomena.

The goal is to achieve carbon neutrality, a target also known as net zero. This is the zeroing of net carbon emissions. Namely that the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere are equivalent to those removed, according to a virtuous model of climate neutrality of human activities on the planet.

How to calculate your carbon footprint

Before taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is essential to be aware of the carbon footprint. Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas. There are others that are equally harmful such as fluorinated gases, methane and nitrogen oxides.

In order to simplify the calculation of the total emissions of companies, products, services and even entire states, each greenhouse gas is measured in tonnes of CO2 equivalent. I.e. equated to carbon dioxide. In this way, it is possible to make a fairly accurate estimate of the carbon footprint, taking into account all emitted greenhouse gases.

Measuring the carbon footprint of a good, a service, an activity or a country allows us to understand how sustainable they are or are not, by calculating their climate impact. This can provide three possible results.

  • carbon neutral or net zero emissions: this means that the total net emissions are zero, as the greenhouse gases produced by an activity are offset by the removal of CO2, or by actions that compensate for the climate-altering gases emitted. In fact, it is possible to consider the activity climate neutral;
  • climate positive or carbon negative: these two expressions can be used synonymously, as being climate positive is equivalent to being carbon negative. This is a higher level of sustainability, as the activity not only does not have a negative impact on the planet, but is able to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and is a benefit to the environment;
  • negative impact on climate: this result is the worst of all, as it shows that the activity examined produces more emissions than it is able to offset or eliminate. In these cases, it is necessary to study intervention strategies, to understand how to achieve carbon neutrality and subsequently aim for a climate-positive condition.

The carbon neutral goals of countries and companies

The goal of the world’s leading countries is to achieve a carbon neutral state by 2050. This is what the European Union has set out, for example, through the European Green Deal. A plan that aims to transform the EU economy and make it achieve net zero emissions by 2050, i.e. zero net greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course, there are countries that aim to achieve this before 2050, such as Finland, which wants to become carbon neutral by 2035. Other countries, however, will need more time, such as China. Which wants to transform its economy and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Sustainability goals also applies to companies. Microsoft, for example, wants to become carbon negative by 2030, removing before 2050 all CO2 emitted into the atmosphere since 1975, the year it was founded. In the automotive sector, many companies, such as Toyota and BMW, are aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050, with a considerable reduction in emissions by 2030 thanks to the rise of electric and hybrid cars.

How to achieve carbon neutrality

There are several solutions to lower greenhouse gas emissions:

  • increase the use of renewable energies and reduce the use of fossil fuels;
  • optimise processes to decrease energy waste and CO2 emissions;
  • integrating smart working where possible to reduce employee travel;
  • improve waste management by increasing recycling and reuse;
  • implement low- and zero-emission mobility solutions.

Of course it is not possible to become carbon neutral overnight, but it is a long-term goal that requires a serious commitment to the ecological transition. On the other hand, this is a challenge we must meet, because only by reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero will it be possible to leave a planet that can also sustain future generations.

Read also: Oslo will become the first carbon-neutral capital in the world: here’s how

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